“Freedom lies in being bold.” – Robert Frost
This episode’s guest is the incredible Peter Thiel.
Peter is a serial company founder (PayPal, Palantir), billionaire investor (first outside investor in Facebook, 100+ others), and author of the new book Zero to One. Whether you’re an investor, entrepreneur, or simply a free thinker aspiring to do great things, I highly recommend you grab a copy. His teachings on differentiation, value creation, and competition alone have helped me make some of the best investment decisions of my life (e.g. Twitter, Uber, Alibaba, etc.).
This podcast episode was experimental, as I was on medical leave. It includes both audio and written questions. What are Peter’s favorite books? Thoughts on tech and government, and more? Answers to these “bonus questions” can be found in the text below.
For the longer, main audio discussion, you can:
- Listen to the episode on iTunes
- Download it as an MP3 (right click “save as”): Here it is.
- Or stream it now below (If you’re reading this in e-mail, please click here to stream):
Now, a bit more on Peter…
Peter Thiel has been involved with some of the most dynamic companies to emerge from Silicon Valley in the past decade, both as a founder and investor. Peter’s first start-up was PayPal, which he co-founded in 1998 and led to a $1.5 billion acquisition by eBay in 2002. After the eBay acquisition, Peter founded Clarium Capital Management, a global macro hedge fund. Peter also helped launch Palantir Technologies, an analytical software company which now books $1B in revenue per year, and he serves as the chairman of that company’s board. He was the first outside investor in Facebook, and he has invested in more than 100 startups total.
There are a lot of lessons in this podcast, even more in his new book, and below are a few follow-up questions that Peter answered via text.
TIM: What is the book (or books) you’ve most often gifted to other people?
PETER: Books by René Girard, definitely — both because he’s the one writer who has influenced me the most and because many people haven’t heard of him.
Girard gives a sweeping view of the whole human experience on this planet — something captured in the title of his masterwork, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World — but it’s not just an academic philosophy. Once you learn about it, his view of imitation as the root of behavior is something you will see every day, not just in people around you but in yourself.
What is your favorite movie or documentary?
PETER: No Country for Old Men — a movie about whether all events are simply random, but also a work in which no detail is left to chance. I catch something new every time I watch it.
To increase technological growth/progress, what are the key things you think the government or people should do for greatest impact?
PETER: Libertarians like to call out excessive regulations, and I think they’re right.
But it’s a vicious circle: when governments make it harder to get things done, people come to expect less; when expectations are low, technologists are less likely to aim high with the kind of risky new ventures that could deliver major progress. The most fundamental thing we need to do is regain our sense of ambition and possibility.
For those who want to improve their ability to question assumptions or commonly held “truths,” which philosophers, or reading, or exercises, or activities might you suggest?
PETER: It’s a great exercise to revisit predictions about the future that were made in the past.
People write a lot of history, and they make a lot of predictions, and I consume a lot of both. But it’s rare that people go and check old predictions. It’s a way to see — with the benefit of hindsight — the assumptions that people didn’t even know they were making, and that can make you more sensitive to the questionable conventions that surround us today. For example, The American Challenge by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber argued in 1968 that Europe would be eclipsed by relentless American progress. But that progress never came. It’s instructive to go back and see why Servan-Schreiber was optimistic.
Now, some questions for you all…
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